What the Bible says about
Fear of God as a Learned Response
(From Forerunner Commentary)
A hundred other verses say essentially the same thing: We must have the fear of God in us. Nevertheless, many persist in believing that, in Christianity, the fear of God has been replaced by love for God.
There is no doubt that God wants us to fear Him. Notice that Psalm 34:11 says that the fear of God is a quality that we must learn, indicating that we do not have this characteristic in us by nature. The fear of God, then, is different from the fears we normally have in life. Thus, it must be learned.
Fear is a powerful motivator. Our normal understanding of fear spans from being a mild apprehension or awareness of anxiety all the way to outright, bowel-moving terror. As an extreme, it creates the "fight or flight" response. Why, then, does a loving God want us to fear Him? Would He not rather want us to snuggle up to Him with no thought of fear?
Many people have that conception, but it is a mistaken one. We must not forget that God is not a man; He is God. He reminds us in Isaiah 55:8-9 that He does not think like a man. Yes, He wants us to love Him, but even in that love the sense of fear should always be present.
Recall that Psalm 2:11 commands, "Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling." To a Christian, fearing and rejoicing seem to be an odd couple. Paul writes in Philippians 2:12 to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." Ordinarily, we associate "trembling" with fear, of being frightened. What is there to fear and tremble about in taking salvation to its conclusion?
Deuteronomy 6:4-5 says, "Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength." Within a Christian setting, we are much more comfortable with this command to love, yet notice verses 1-2:
Now this is the commandment, and these are the statutes and judgments which the LORD your God has commanded to teach you, that you may observe them in the land which you are crossing over to possess, that you may fear the LORD your God to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, you and your son and your grandson, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged.
Immediately preceding and following His command in verse 5 to love Him, He also affirms that we are to fear Him (see verses 2, 13). The sense of verses 1-2 is that this fear is produced as we keep His commandments, not before! Clearly, fear of Him and love for Him cannot be separated from our relationship with Him.
Isaiah 8:13 adds another interesting aspect. "The LORD of hosts, Him you shall hallow; let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread." Surely, we might think that someone as close to God as Isaiah did not need to fear Him, but here God commands Isaiah to fear him. Why? Because the fear gained within the relationship with Him always motivates movement in the right, godly direction, regardless of the intensity of life's circumstances.
What about I John 4:17-18? Does it not contradict the assertion that our relationship with God should contain godly fear?
Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.
This passage does not contradict in the least, once we understand the kind of fear the apostle John is writing about. The clue to this fear appears in verse 17 in the term "boldness." John is referring to being bold in spite of the circumstances we face from life in this world once we are converted. The love of God works in us to dispel the fear of disease, oppressions, persecution, and death, but it does not drive out the fear of God. If it did, John would be contradicting what the Bible says elsewhere about the necessity of continuing to fear God. Christianity has not replaced the fear of God with the love of God, as many wrongly believe. Instead, the two work hand in hand.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Sin, Christians, and the Fear of God
The fear of the Lord is not something that comes naturally but that must be learned. It is in fact the essence of true religion. An "essence" is what makes something what it is; it is the real nature of a thing. The fear of the Lord is the real nature of the religion, the way of life, of God.
It is in us to fear instinctively when we are little children. We fear being left alone. We fear falling. We fear sudden noises. We fear the dark and lightning and thunderstorms. We fear many things almost instinctively because our first reaction is always to protect the self. Not all of these fears are wrong or negligible by any means, for they are what cause us to act to preserve our lives.
The fear of God does not come so naturally. We have to begin doing it consciously, and we have to learn to do it and grow in it. The Bible shows that it is not in man to fear God instinctively.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fear of God
Notice that the fear of God does not come naturally; it must be learned. We are not born with it already existing within. It is a vital quality given through contact with God and someone qualified to teach it, as David surely was.
If we study and meditate on Him, the Scriptures will reveal that God is supreme in everything, including in qualities like love, power, wisdom, forgiveness, mercy, patience, kindness, etc. God is sovereign over all. These virtues alone provide multiple reasons for fearing Him.
In this church, the overwhelming majority of our messages address our responsibilities to the Creator, for this is always a need that must be filled in us. However, what about God? Has He no rights to be a solidly entrenched reality in our minds, always serving as the guide to our lives?
How can we possibly live by a truly vital faith if a strong and true awareness of the reality of His oversight and presence is not our guide in every aspect of life each day? After all, who is regulating affairs on planet earth today—God or the Devil? Intellectually, a person will quickly concede that God reigns supreme in heaven, but that He does so over the world is almost universally denied. How is this denied? Titus 1:15-16 provides the answer:
To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work.
Despite their claims to be Christian, people's consistent disobedience discloses the falsehood that they are truly Christians and that God is a reality in their lives.
In our time, because of the influence of evolution in education and the weakness of religious teaching in the churches, it is not only commonly denied that God created everything by personal and direct action, but few also believe, as proved by their conduct, that He has any immediate concern about regulating the works of His own hands. Everything is assumed to be ordered according to the impersonal and abstract laws of nature.
The churches contain many members who are either outright Deists or incipient ones. A Deist believes God created the world and then stepped away, taking no interest in its operations. We must not allow ourselves to have this attitude. We have to know and obey what we know—that is our responsibility as a Christian.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Living By Faith and God's Sovereignty
A Christian is a person upon whom God has shown mercy, and here Luke also identifies Christians as those who fear God. In Luke 18:2, 4, Jesus reveals in a parable that it is the unconverted who do not fear God. His followers fear God.
Elsewhere, the Bible identifies Christians as those who fear God. Notice Acts 9:31: "Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied." Later, Luke writes: "And they said, 'Cornelius the centurion, a just man, one who fears God and has a good reputation among all the nation of the Jews, was divinely instructed by a holy angel to summon you to his house, and to hear words from you" (Acts 10:22). Cornelius, a Gentile prepared for baptism, is called "one who fears God."
Hebrews 5:7 describes Jesus' fear of God: ". . . who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear." Even Jesus, who knew God better than anyone who had ever walked the face of the earth, feared God. Note the special attention paid to the fact that God answered His prayers because He did.
God is holy. He is different to a level so far above mankind that those who truly know Him do not lose that apprehension and awe that comes from the privilege of being in the presence of sheer, powerfully pure holiness. Fear plays a large part in a good relationship with God.
Genesis 3:10 is the first time a form of fear appears in Scripture, and interestingly, it is in the context of sin. Adam responds to God, "I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself." Elsewhere, the English word "fear" and its cognates appear in many contexts and forms: "feared," "fearful," "fearfully," "fearfulness," "fearing," and "afraid." These terms appear over 720 times in Scripture.
We tend to be uncertain about fearing God because we think of fear as a negative characteristic. We feel that we should love Him rather than fear Him. However, as we study God's Word and experience life with Him, we come to understand that, at the foundation of loving God, godly fear modifies our highly variable faith in God and love for God in significant ways.
All of those forms of "fear" express a wide range of emotions. Feelings such as dread, distress, dismay, trouble, terror, horror, alarm, awe, respect, reverence, and admiration may all appear as "fear" in Scripture. The fear that God desires in us is a good, positive, motivating quality.
This fear is one that we do not naturally possess. Recall Psalm 34:11: "Come you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD." How do we learn the fear of God? Psalm 33:8-9 gives insight: "Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him. For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast." Godly fear is one of a deep and abiding respect that grows as we learn—from within a continuing, intimate relationship—of His character, His purpose, and His powers. The unconverted do not have this relationship as a sustaining presence.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Sin, Christians, and the Fear of God
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